Reports that flyers purporting a connection to the Ku Klux Klan had been found around the city last week led to a call for a “day of action” outside Waynesboro’s city hall Monday evening.
Spearheaded by RISE, a community activist group, the hourlong rally at the Charles T. Yancey Municipal Building attracted a crowd of more than 40 to hear a half-dozen speakers express the need to stand up to the hate espoused by the KKK while also calling on elected and appointed officials to do more to safeguard the rights of the city’s “black and brown citizens.”
Chanda McGuffin, who co-founded RISE — Resist, Improve, Sustain, Empowered — in March 2018, told the crowd she helped organize the rally to make sure those concerns were heard.
Other speakers, including RISE co-founder Sharon Fitz, joined McGuffin in calling out City Council’s decision to cancel Monday’s regularly scheduled business meeting. In an email announcing the rally, McGuffin said she felt council’s decision was meant to “silence” their concerns.
“No one will silence me in this country. ... I’m fighting for my son’s life,” she said Monday night. “I’m going to keep speaking.”
Councilman Bobby Henderson, who serves as vice mayor, said during a telephone interview earlier in the day that the decision to cancel was made following a joint meeting with the Waynesboro School Board on Wednesday night.
Henderson said the council meeting was canceled because the only item scheduled was the consent agenda, which includes routine business and reports and typically can be approved in one action.
The flyers’ appearance coincided with immigration raids President Donald Trump said would occur starting July 14 in several cities across the U.S. However, large-scale raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents did not appear to take place.
The leaflets, stating “ICE IS NICE,” also gave the writer’s support to “law enforcement everywhere.”
But, as of Monday, the actual source of the leaflets and their connection to the racist group remains uncertain. The printed pages, found attached to bags of birdseed at various locations around the city, included wording alluding to the hate group, calling on people to contact the “Loyal White Knights.”
Capt. Kelly Walker of the Waynesboro Police Department said the department received several complaints last week but apparently none this weekend. According to the city, some of the flyers were found near Gio’s 503 Salvadorian Restaurant on East Main Street and on Park Road, although Walker said they also were reported elsewhere.
“We heard about a couple … and our officers actually found a couple,” Walker said. “They were not in a particular neighborhood at all. … There didn’t appear to be any sort of pattern.”
Walker said there also was nothing in the writing that appeared to constitute a direct threat against someone, meaning at this point anyone responsible for throwing the flyers would most likely be charged with littering.
“It’s essentially rubbish,” he said.
Walker said the department has not seen any recent activity by the KKK or similar hate groups, at least not in a formal way.
“Not recently, as far as maybe beyond sporadic graffiti we find that may or may not be related to a hate group, but has a hateful message to it. … They may share the same ideology,” he said.
During Monday’s rally, however, there was no equivocation regarding the Klan’s involvement.
“I speak as a pastor, as a member of the community, a supporter of RISE,” said Paul Oakley, pastor of Waynesboro’s Unitarian Universalist Fellowship church. “We live in a country with a history of white supremacy ... a system that puts black and brown people at risk every day.”
Oakley called on City Council to take a vocal stand against the Klan, which he described as a “virulent hate organization.”
“Our call is to our elected officials and law enforcement to serve spiritual eviction papers on the KKK,” he said.
In a Facebook post Friday, Mayor Terry Short said when he heard about the flyers, he immediately asked City Manager Michael Hamp to have city police investigate and report their findings. In addition, he said he asked the city’s attorney to examine what if any ordinance could be enacted to directly address “this vile act.”
Short, in his post, said that after speaking with legal counsel, he found that the city’s ability to limit the distribution of leaflets is limited based on previous court decisions regarding the freedom of speech.
“There is nothing the City can do to restrict the KKK’s activity specifically. Generally, a locality cannot suppress expressive activity in public forums and must allow speakers to exercise their First Amendment rights,” he stated. “[T]he government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”
Short also said he and Councilman Samuel Hostetter visited with Gio’s owner Giovanni Castro-Hernandez at his business and offered that our Waynesboro “does not welcome hate, intimidation or intolerance.”
The mayor also said he reached out to community leaders to plan for a community conversation regarding the incident.
Hostetter was the only member of council to attend the rally but did not address the crowd. Afterward, he said he came out to “say no to hate in Waynesboro.”
As far as Monday night’s scheduled meeting, he said although the reason for its cancellation was not related to the flyers, “we did not time this thing right.” But, he added, “We will be here in a couple of weeks and ready to hear people’s concerns.”
Hostetter also said he would support looking into whether an ordinance can be crafted that could address a similar situation in the future.